By Adam Jones in Paris
Patrick Ricard, who died on Friday at the age of 67, gave France a masterclass in how to profit from globalisation. Yet the cornerstone of his success at Pernod Ricard, the world’s second-biggest distiller by sales, was an aperitif of only limited international appeal.
Mr Ricard was the son of Paul Ricard, who created Ricard pastis in 1932 in Marseille. This aniseed-flavoured drink rose to national prominence, partly because of French holidaymakers tasting it in Provence and then buying it at home as a reminder of lost sunshine.
A warm and unassuming man, Mr Ricard said he had little choice about joining the family business. “Papa would have regarded it as a form of betrayal had I not joined Ricard. He was a strong character and anyway, in those days, you did what you were told,” he once said.
Ricard merged with Pernod, the rival pastis maker, in 1975 but this was a minor deal compared with the aggressive debt-fuelled consolidation that Mr Ricard eventually pursued after becoming chairman and chief executive of the company in 1978.
The first transformational deal was the $8.15bn joint acquisition of Seagram’s drinks arm alongside Diageo in 2001. Pernod Ricard’s share of the spoils included Chivas Regal whisky, which would become a big seller in China as Asia boomed.
The 2005 purchase of Allied Domecq – in which Pernod Ricard was aided by Fortune Brands of the US – took the company even further away from languid evenings overlooking the Mediterranean. The brands it picked up in the £7.4bn deal included Ballantine’s whisky and Beefeater gin. In an industry where the fixed costs of distribution are high, it makes sense to have large volumes going through your sales network and the two deals did just that. Pernod Ricard subsequently bought Vin & Sprit, the maker of Absolut vodka, for ?5.6bn including assumed debt in 2008, before the French company’s borrowings had to be reined in.
Mr Ricard, a keen hunter, was not the sort of French chief executive who dabbled in politics behind the scenes. His management style focused on giving autonomy to those running the brands.
In late 2008, he stepped down from his executive duties while remaining chairman. The day-to-day management of the business – which has a market capitalisation of ?23bn and is 14 per cent owned by the Ricard family – was handed to Pierre Pringuet, who remains chief executive.
Mr Ricard was understood to have suffered a heart attack on the island of Bendor, one of two islands off the south coast of France owned by his family.
He is survived by his wife and three children. Pierre Moscovici, France’s finance minister, said his passing was a “heavy loss for the community of French entrepreneurs